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Cubicles 101: Choosing the Right Size Cubicle for Your Office

The modern workspace has undergone some big changes over the past few years thanks to the rise of coworking spaces, desk sharing and virtual offices. But no matter how far we stray from the traditional office layout, the cubicle remains, though it too has undergone some serious evolution.

Herman Miller Action Office II ca 1976

If you’re wondering what type of cubicle to consider for your office, or if you want to learn a little more about the most common piece of modern office furniture, keep on reading!

From the Action Office & Beyond: A Brief History of Cubicles

The office cubicle as we know it today was invented in 1967 by Robert Propst, a designer at Herman Miller. The very first office cubicle, called the Action Office II (AO2), was developed as a solution to suit the changing needs of office employees in the 60s. The goal was simple: to define an office space that was capable of suiting an employee’s changing needs, while allowing some privacy and giving employees the ability to personalize their workspace—all without taking up too much space. A man ahead of his time, Propst was even the first proponent of standing desks!

2015_Federal_Reserve_Bank_of_New_York_from_west

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York was the first office to use Propst’s cubicle design, the AO2.

Propst’s concept hinged on having a two- to three-sided vertical division that defined territory and allowed privacy, without alienating the employee from the sounds and activities going on around them. His original idea was to create open “bullpens,” the panels of which would be joined at 120-degree angles. Unfortunately, management realized they could fit more employees if the offices were cube-shaped, so they constructed connectors with 90-degree angles and voila! The cubicle as we know it was born.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York was the first office to use Propst’s AO2, arranging the “pods” in groups of four, each with an L-shaped desk and overhead storage. These days, modern cubicles come in different heights, shapes, sizes and materials. Banking and insurance businesses were some of the first to adopt open plan office systems, but nearly every industry has followed, specifically service industries.

Modern cubicles include built-in desks, storage space, and can even include various ergonomic features like well-placed lighting and footrests. Other types of cubicles that you may see at banks or in hospitals are little more than desks with dividers. The type of cubicle you need depends on how you’re planning to use it and what type of business you’re looking to furnish.

Different Types of Cubicles

Call Center Cubicles – Call center cubicles, also called telemarketing cubicles, are the right choice when a small footprint is desired. Call center cubicles are smaller than average office cubicles and are made with enough work space for one person, similar to study booths in libraries. They usually have shorter walls than average office cubicles, and the panels often extend only to the edge of the desk. Many modern call center cubicles offer glass panels to provide transparency without making employees feel like they’re under a microscope. Common call center footprints are:

  • 2’x5’
  • 4’x4’
  • 5’x5’

Standard Office Cubicles – Standard office cubicles can be extraordinarily spacious and are available with a variety of layouts and work surfaces. Standard office cubicles are also designed for one person to use, but there’s enough room for an extra chair in case a visitor stops by, as well as space for any materials or equipment the worker may need (think computers, files, phones and notepads). Work surfaces in standard cubicles are typically l-shaped or u-shaped and come in both high- and low-panel options. Manager cubicles can be constructed with larger footprints than standard and in custom dimensions, but generally speaking, standard cubicle footprints are:

  • 6’x6’
  • 6’x8’
  • 8’x8’
basic cubicle design 2015

Today’s cubicles are used in private offices, call centers and beyond.

Modular Offices – One of the main complaints about cubicles is that they eliminated the private office. There are still plenty of cases where privacy is necessary, like human resources and when delivering private financial or medical information, and modular offices are the solution. Modular offices, also called executive offices or high-walled cubicles with doors, have a much larger footprint than cubicles. In modular offices, the walls are generally at least 12’ high and can come in glass or solid paneling, perfect for giving decision makers levels of privacy while keeping an open office plan. When you need an instant executive office, modular offices are the only way to go.

Standard Cubicle Heights

Unless you’re ordering a custom cubicle, there are three basic cubicle heights: low (42” wall height), medium (53” wall height), and high (66” wall height).  Check out our blog post to see what your office cube height says about your company.

Generally speaking, 5×5 cubicles have medium walls, so they’re good in industries where supervisors need to keep an eye on employees, and in nearly every corporate situation. Storage space in 5×5 cubicles tends to be a little more limited than cubicles with a larger footprint, but it’s still easy to find 5×5 cubicles with plenty of drawers, pedestals and overhead storage options.

6×6 cubicles can have medium walls or high walls, and the extra floor space makes it easy to squeeze in an extra filing pedestal or two. Depending on the layout you choose, 6×6 cubicles offer plenty of open space for collaboration with colleagues. Some 6’x6′ cubicles even have additional shelving units, lighting options, and other high tech features.

How Many Cubicles Can I Fit in my Office?

When determining what size cubicle you need there are several factors to consider: the manufacturer, panel thickness, clustering capabilities, and work surface models.  Popular cubicle sizes are approximately 9’x12’ for a middle manager or engineer who has multiple computer systems; 8’x0’ for senior staff members or engineers; 8’x8’ for general staff; and 6’x6’ for administrative and telephone support personnel.

Evolution of the Action Office II ca1978

While computers have evolved leaps and bounds since 1978, the typical office design has largely stayed the same, thanks to Propst.

The actual square footage that you have available to pack with cubicles depends on a series of metrics essential for analyzing the efficiency of any office space. These metrics are the Gross Density Ratio, usually between 175 useable square feet (USF)/person to 325 USF/person; and the Enclosed to Open Ratio. There are also other factors to consider like the Circulation Factor and room sizes, all of which an architect or space planning professional can assist with.

Cubicle Worksurface and Materials

Cubicles these days can be constructed in almost any material desired. Cubicle panels and partitions can be built out of fine exotic woods, soft fabrics, glass, metal and more. The counter or desk component of an office cubicle is typically constructed from laminate or wood. While some of the more popular cubicle materials can get pricey, it’s easy to find and buy high-quality used and refurbished cubicles online.

Choosing cubicles for your office can be a bit of a pain if you don’t know what your options are, so if you’re looking for like-new cubicles for an office or workspace, give us a call today. We’ll help steer you in the right direction with our decades of expertise and well-stocked inventory.

Posted by James Wilkie

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